Thursday, July 7, 2011
Eau de Beeb - BBC 4's perfume documentary Part Two
Entitled "Bottling the Memory", part 2 of Ian Denyer's documentary trilogy "Perfume," continued with a transatlantic perspective, but managed to leave the clichés of the first installment behind. Focusing on several levels - two maverick perfumers, a teacher and his apprentices, a bespoke client and simple users reveling in perfumed memory, the hour was well used to convey insights into the technical, philosophical and artistic-aesthetic principles of perfume making. We saw Hermès in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena pondering over a new creation for the Jardin series, inspired by the beautiful rooftop garden of the Paris boutique, working away in his Gropius-style house/lab in Southern France. We got to now Christopher "I Hate Perfume" Brosius in his Brooklyn studio and in London, researching a bespoke scent for an anglophile client (tie designer Sean Crowley) seeking the smell of "Old England." And we met Jean Guichard of the Givaudan Perfumery School (Givaudan is one of the big four scent and flavor producers) and his small band of apprentices, who dreamt romantically of creating beautiful scents, but were busy in the school of hard knocks identifying various molecules (but also strolling through lavender fields to get close to "the real"). What came across beautifully was how scent is so intimately linked to both place (Brosius talking of the specific smell of English books due to the humidity) and time (how the smell of London has changed, as leather taxi seats, smoking in pubs and phone booths with paper phone books have disappeared) - and how therefore smell and memory are often one as an encapsulation of a specific place and time. This was nicely conveyed by snippets of two women talking about their scented memories, the younger of her mom dressing up for a night out (glamor, romance), the elder about precisely such nights on the town after WWII, wearing a signature scent. Brosius and Ellena also shared fascinating memories and philosophies of scent and with such a cast of interesting characters (I think Quentin the sensitive-romantic apprentice will become a great philosopher-nose one day) the episode flew by and became a rich memory itself.